14562 Thu, 05/29/2008 - 3:22pm
By Warren Shoulberg
NEW YORK–Vera Wang is a study in contrasts.
She made her name in high-priced, near-couture-level wedding gowns, yet her newest success is several layers down the retail food chain at midtier Kohl’s.
She is very much the epitome of fashion, yet she clearly realizes that her customers live, dress and furnish their homes in a much, much different manner.
And while she is best known for products in the color white, you’d be hard-pressed to find her out in public in anything but her signature black wardrobe mixed in with the occasional gray.
But put all of those contrasting pieces together and you have one of the hotter designers in the business today, someone who so far has successfully navigated the tricky waters of multiple-tier distribution of her brand.
And someone who still has enormous upside potential, especially in the home business.
“It’s a great time to be in home,” she told HFN recently in an exclusive interview following the debut of her first line of bedding textiles ensembles.
While not the first fashion designer to get involved in home by any means, Wang believes she brings something different to the market. “I like to think we will be viewed as an American brand that is more artistic.”
Indeed, the bedding collection is nothing if not artistic. Heavy on the whites, of course, it includes many of her signature details—“Veraisms,” she calls them—such as scalloping, embroidery and classic tailoring.
What is unexpected, however, is how the line will be sold, at least initially. It will only be available online, at a new Web site, Verawangonweddings.com, set to launch as you read this. She says this allows her to show a much broader assortment of product than if she was fighting for shelf space right out of the gate.
Retail distribution will come, probably next year, along with such allied products as bath towels and other accessories.
“This is the beginning of a platform,” she said. “In 2009 and 2010, we will launch a cross-category effort, everything from decorative fabrics to furniture to rugs to paint.” Those as-yet unnamed programs, will join tabletop from Wedgwood and mattresses from Serta, as well as licenses in other fields.
But certainly it was her deal with Kohl’s, launched last year under the Simply Vera Vera Wang label, that is the one that breaks the usual rules.
“When Kohl’s came along, I felt it could be something wonderful. I decided I wanted to go down-market, not to the bottom, but to a level where people could afford it,” she said. “And just because it’s less expensive that doesn’t mean it can’t be designed well.”
It’s a mantra that other upscale designers have voiced before, but Wang says she went about it differently than perhaps others did. “When I do home, I’m very much client-centric. When I did tabletop, it wasn’t just what I liked, it was about who’s using it. I wanted everything to be user-friendly.”
The Kohl’s deal certainly raised eyebrows about multitier distribution, but Wang says it was much ado about nothing. “It’s a different time, it’s not like when Halston went to Penney,” she said, referring to one of the first designer names to go downscale, in the 1970s, a move that proved fatal to the brand’s better business.
“The consumer doesn’t care about channels.” And being in Kohl’s has not detracted from her upper-end business one bit, she says.
No matter where you put your name, it comes down to a matter of, trust, she will tell you. “Women trust us after 20 years. After all, they trust us with the most important day of their life.”